Venues are rallying for federal aid as short-term prospects for live music appear bleak. See what experts and concertgoers say about the future amid COVID-19 and reckless fans, and see how you can help.
Is live music now only a fond memory?
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With concert venues shut down for the foreseeable future and masks, social-distancing and hardcore sanitizing the new norm due to the coronavirus outbreak, will we ever experience the electric atmosphere of a concert the same way ever again?
Based on industry statistics, media reports and current government restrictions, the prospects, sadly, remain bleak.
Some say it could be a year to 18 months before the nation’s indoor concert scene really returns, and even many diehard concertgoers – and the musicians they go to see – are reluctant to head back to their favorite nightclubs and halls in 2020.
“As much as I live for live music, I’m not willing to die for it,” says West Michigan super fan Jennifer WolfSchwallie. “As long as that is a strong possibility and there are not sure ways of personal safety, I’m staying home and reliving my memories.”
Says Kyle Richardson: “I think we all need to realize this year is canceled. I don’t want anyone breathing, sweating or sitting all up in my space. I won’t be attending any concerts or sporting events until next summer.”
WolfSchwallie and Richardson were among dozens who responded to Local Spins’ Question of the Week: “How worried are you about attending a concert or music festival after the COVID-19 stay-at-home order is lifted?”
And while most expressed similar sentiments, a few hardier souls insist they’re ready to rock, making comments such as “gotta live while you’re alive” and “I’ll be first in line” for resumed concerts. “Bring it on,” says Kevin Scully. “Quit living in fear.”
But the fear is real and far more sobering for those operating concert venues who face serious risks and financial obstacles.
The newly formed National Independent Venue Association – which represents more than 1,300 businesses nationwide, including The Intersection, The Pyramid Scheme, Listening Room and others lobbying Congress for federal funding and assistance for concert venues – cited a recent survey indicating that 90 percent of venues likely can’t survive beyond six months without support. And more than half, just three months.
Entertainment venues that typically pack their spaces with fans were the first to close due to COVID-19 and many experts predict they’ll be the last to reopen. And when and if they do, those concert spaces will likely look radically different.
CAPACITY LIMITATIONS COULD BE CRIPPLING FOR MANY VENUES
Expected restrictions on capacity to ensure social distancing – which could cut the audience size at venues to as little as 20 or 25 percent in some cases – are unrealistic for many establishments even if they’re allowed to reopen.
“It’s just not going to work,” said Intersection talent buyer and partner Scott Hammontree in an interview this week with Local Spins, noting The Intersection and other venues are closely evaluating how restrictions and precautions might alter their ability to stage concerts.
A recent report by The Middleclass Artist publication recently laid out in detail the “financial catastrophe” facing many concert halls due to social-distancing rules, which would slash audience sizes and revenues, and force ticket prices to quadruple.
An Arkansas venue planning America’s first socially distanced concert starring country-rock’s Travis McCready is keeping capacity to just 20 percent, requiring attendees to wear masks and taking temperature checks of fans at the entrance, according to DigitalMusicNews.com.
Hammontree suggested it could be 12 to 18 months before indoor concerts return in earnest, though he’s confident The Intersection – projecting a record year until the COVID-19 shutdown – will eventually reopen. Many other venues, he predicts, just won’t survive.
And that means West Michigan’s burgeoning, fast-growing music scene will take a hit and likely experience shrinkage in terms of venues and options for live entertainment, he conceded.
THE VACCINE AS A SILVER BULLET; PROSPECTS FOR OUTDOOR SHOWS FIRST
Based on interviews, projections and comments by fans, a few trends and some consensus on the future of live music has emerged:
• The silver bullet? A vaccine. Hammontree says a widely available vaccine for COVID-19 would be the panacea for many when it comes to the fears and concerns facing concert venues and their patrons. Fans seem to agree.
“I won’t be going to any shows – indoor, outdoor, small or large – until there is a vaccine in wide use and specifically in me,” says fan Ted Bergin.
• Outdoor shows. Many, including Hammontree, believe these will be the first live concerts to return, whether it’s a popular “Rock the Lot” show in the parking lot next to The Intersection or a small outdoor festival. Fans certainly seem to be more inclined to test the waters at an outdoor show with improved capacity for social distancing.
“Outdoors with lots of space will be the first step for me,” says Kevin Fein.
Carol Burton, organizer of the Beaver Island Music Festival still aiming to take place on the island in the middle of northern Lake Michigan in mid-July, insists you “can’t replace all of the things festivals and music bring to our lives with a computer screen. If the smaller festivals shut down, it will be hard to bring them back. We can be safe and still have a totally awesome time spacing together. Before we say never, or next year, let’s see what happens day by day.”
VENUES ‘COMING TOGETHER FOR THE FIRST TIME’ WITH NIVA
• The positive impact of the new NIVA organization. Formed in the wake of the crisis, the group representing independent venues already has gotten support from numerous members of Congress for federal assistance and has been educating government leaders and the public about their unusual and crippling plight.
Hammontree, who now spends several hours a day on NIVA work, said it’s the first time that all of these venues – some of whom are competitors – have pulled together. It bodes well for the future, he said, in terms of aggregating resources, consolidating lobbying efforts and assisting employees of these venues.
“We’re coming together for the first time. It’s good to see that,” he said. “There’s going to be some great things that come out of that.”
Fans and businesses can help NIVA and its #SaveOurStages campaign by signing a letter to legislators, asking for protection for independent venues. Get info and sign the letter online here.
Get more information in this New York Times story: Small clubs are where rock history is made. How many will survive?
‘BLUNDERING WILDEBEESTS’ & OTHER IRRESPONSIBLE FANS
• The recklessness of some is a big concern. Even devoted concertgoers worry that those ignoring social-distancing and face mask requirements are poisoning the well for others who might otherwise consider attending a concert.
“I won’t be attending any indoor activities or closely packed outdoor activities until testing is widely available, affordable, reliable and quick,” says Local Spins contributing writer Tricia Boot Woolfenden, who says she loves the vibe of a packed room and doesn’t want to be “jockeying for a safe space” during a show. “Singing and yelling can turn a carrier (whether asymptomatic or symptomatic) into a super-spreader. And what does an enthusiastic crowd do? Sing and yell along.”
Amber Buist, manager of Traverse City’s The Accidentals, noted “there is always one guy/girl who is determined to ‘live while we’re alive’ with little concern for anyone else. … I feel like it’s irresponsible to encourage people to gather until we are sure we are not breathing sickness and it’s run its course. … We assume people are going to be responsible and social distance while they are drinking and having fun. I’m not putting my money on those cards.”
Mike Wedeven says he badly wants to return to live shows, but “Michiganders have proven over and over they can’t be trusted when it comes to distancing. There’s always some wildebeest who comes blundering into your bubble.”
Check out more reader responses to Local Spins’ Question of the Week below. And sign up for Local Spins’ new weekly newsletter with exclusive content and a chance to win Local Spins merchandise. Sign up here.
Last week’s winner: Meagen Coburn (who won a Local Spins bandana).
“How worried are you about attending a concert or music festival after the COVID-19 stay-at-home order is lifted?”
Nicholas James Thomasma – I’m ready for small gatherings and backyard concerts. I don’t think a festival is a good idea.
Bob Rowe – I agree, large groups are just too dangerous until there is a vaccine or a dependable treatment-this is a weird virus that does terrible things to the body.
Nathan Purchase – I’ve already have been planning to see no live music till 2021. They just haven’t announced it yet. I know of a lot of bands that have already canceled all of their shows till 2021. Live concerts will be the last thing to open back up fully I believe. It’s sad since my life revolves around music and all my income and work is based in the music industry. As much as I’m dying to see live music, we have to be very smart on how we approach this in the music industry. Festivals especially would be a nightmare. They are breeding grounds for the virus. I could see local/smaller festivals happening in 2021, but I doubt the bigger festivals will even be allowed to host their events until there is a vaccine available and released to the public.
Meagen Coburn – Festivals and venues wouldn’t put themselves into financial catastrophe if this wasn’t a serious threat to the very nature of their guests. We’re living through such an unknown right now, and it’s not only unfortunate because we’re canceling shows to keep us from spreading this possible virus to our physical health between all of us in close proximity, but the very nature of the collective musical experience is such a boost to many for mental health reasons that we’re all struggling anyway. I don’t know when we’ll be together again in a venue or in the heart of our great city or in the middle of a field, but what I do know is that it’s going to be a celebration unlike what we’ve had before.
Christian J. VanAntwerpen – Being a musician myself, I was pretty much limiting concerts to must see shows prior to all this anyways. That being said, it would depend on artist, venue, and safety guidelines. If an artist I was dying to see was touring, and it may be a rare event and it was outdoors with safety precautions in place…. yeah, I would probably attend. But even that I think would be a ways off.
Laura Walczak – If any people gather in a group, you have to provide restroom facilities — and no one is talking about how to make public restrooms safe. This is a huge concern that needs to be addressed to even begin to question whether we can have concerts safely.
Carol Burton – I personally want to see everyone and real live music! Especially outdoors! We can’t replace all of the things festivals and music bring to our lives with a computer screen. It is not the same.
Corine Puro Fickett – I’ve had eight out of 12 concerts I have tickets for cancel or postpone so far. My family is healthy, so I’m good with it. I don’t see attending the other four this year. Once everything is back to “normal,” I may feel comfortable doing what I love.
Dave Joanis – It’s going to depend on how the venues adapt to the situation and the guidelines that they will be forced to follow. While I like a little distance between me and the next sweaty body, I fear that too much of a reduction of fans might suck the energy out of the show.
Kerrie Smallegan LeBlanc – This is a source of anxiety. We purchased tickets already, obviously really want to see these performers, but also just don’t want to be reckless with our health and safety of others. Hopefully venues will have some protocols.
Tricia Boot – I miss live music more than just about anything. The artists I held tickets for in the next few months (Foals, Angel Olsen) canceled their tours, so those decisions were made for me. Artists’ safety is way more important to me than me getting to see them this year, so I’m relieved with it. This is an opportunity to turn everything upside down and reimagine how live music works for everyone … I’m thinking quiet shows at the Listening Room or outdoor shows with lots of space are the first where I’ll re-engage. That is, once testing is reliable, widespread and prompt.
Jack Leaver – Tricia Boot, I am with you. I don’t know where or if I will even be playing this summer. I imagine I will continue with weekly Wednesday and Thursday Facebook live-streaming, and hopefully, I will play small outdoor parties on the weekends.
Stacy Slikkers Noonan – There are certain events that I feel completely comfortable going to like Willowsong or Fest of All, small house concerts. Sticking to outside events for now. Sad for my favorite small indoor venues: The Pyramid Scheme, The Intersection, Tip Top Deluxe.
Amber Buist – It’s super hard to drink and eat with a face mask on and these venues make their money on alcohol and food. I don’t think we have gotten that 50,000 people are dead, several arenas, young and old. Even if you are not afraid to get it, it’s about not spreading it unwittingly to others who are. …. Maybe we could just look at (what happened) in Tennessee this week. I just got off the phone with a friend that works in a salon in Tennessee, and she and five employees quit today because no one is taking the mask wearing seriously: Guy comes in, takes off his mask, drinks from the fountain, uses the bathroom, and tells his stylist that he has been sleeping on the couch because his sister has COVID.
Goldie Stilson – I am so interested to see the development of new safety protocols. Hopefully, organizers will take this as an opportunity to overhaul their operation to make safety and accessibility a priority for every event. That being said, it’s looking like very limited outdoor performances and online are the only options on the table for now.
Dean Madonia – I play for a living and I have zero interest in playing anywhere for awhile. (I also have cancer so I am compromised.) I certainly have zero intention of “going to see” anyone for a long time. Sadly, I will probably be jobless for a long time for the same reason.
Charlene Watson – We will be on the wait-and-see side. My husband is completely about following the rules and if things are not set up with strict guidelines my concert buddy will be keeping me home. We miss live music more than ever, but not being able to control that one drunk person that can’t seem to stay out of your space is one too many risks I’m not ready to fight.
Sarah Fairbanks Keen – I don’t think venues will be allowed to have shows even if we’re told we can leave our homes and some businesses are allowed to open. I think allowable crowd size is going to remain at small/low capacity throughout 2020. We might be able to go to a local bar for a show, but I doubt we will be seeing national acts at big arenas any time soon.
Joe Chamberlin – If it’s above 85 degrees I am OK with any size concert outdoors. I think bigger shows would be OK if people give each other space and bandana-up Burning Man style. But a lot of people have not been responsible or compassionate lately. More data and less misinformation will help us get back to all shows quicker. Seniors and the immuno-compromised should probably skip crowded shows for awhile though.
Andrew Millard – Not worried much at all. Can’t wait to see local venues begin to host performances again!
Carmen Sluiter – I would be comfortable starting out with small venues with new guidelines. I would be willing to wear a mask. I miss live music.
Daniel Pladdet – All I will do is sing in a coffee house. Small audiences. Otherwise, I won’t go anywhere.
Charity Klein Lytle – I wonder in what ways people will be willing to experience live music? I’ve seen drive-ins posted in the comments here. Live-streams have also done OK. But what ways can we still support our musicians with a living wage for the unforeseeable future?
R.M. Christensen – Everyone went in early March before the media told you to “be afraid.” You were no less or more safe then than you are now. Gotta live while you’re alive.
Andrew Ogrodzinski – Not until there are NO new cases or deaths. It only takes one infected person to take a country down.
Joe Bockheim – I fully accept the risk and would go to a show/festival tonight.
Ryan King – I will absolutely be at shows as soon as they’re back.
Craig Ericson – Yes, I will go to shows when they start up again.
Gabe Schillman – Yes, absolutely. I’ll be first in line.
Tim Hamm – I will welcome the chance to see live music in person again, but I have always been one who preferred a bit of space between me and the drunk person standing nearby. I have changed seats many times just to get away from people who apparently were not there to see the band. Sometimes the standing room only shows were better because I could easily move to another less populated area, and enjoy the evening. So, a bit more room between people will be a good thing in some aspects. … It will be a good thing if some patrons were to wash their hands or use sanitizer a bit more. Just sayin’.
John Crissman – I want to live longer than a couple of concerts. I’ll wait for the scientists to give the OK.
Robin Connell – I have no income so won’t be attending concerts, even if they happen, anytime soon. But I’m following this closely since my income is at zero until festivals/concerts happen again. Currently keeping touch with some summer bookings I still have as we try to determine how to make it happen safely. I think it is entirely feasible but ONLY if participants are willing to attend live music events while adhering to social distancing and all safety guidelines.
Richard App – Outdoor venues, yes. Indoor venues would be a case by case deal. The Listening Room to me has feels very well-suited to work well with the guidelines we’ve got so far.
Brooks Vanderbush – For me, there’s definite apprehension. The states are slowly opening not because we’ve defeated COVID-19, and not because we have effective treatments, but instead because there is now room in the ICU. Simple as that. Until there’s a vaccine and effective treatment, large gatherings are going to be an interesting ordeal, to say the least.
Lance Climie – Until there is a treatment and/or vaccine, gatherings will not happen.
Chris Bota – I’ll be closely watching recommendations from trusted doctors and scientists and responding appropriately. For me, it’s too early to make a personal timeline.
Dan Lynn – Small, outdoor festivals or concerts in the park can probably be done with good distancing, but only after we get the testing rolled out and the medical people are guiding us.
James R. Murphy Jr. – I’ve been thinking since March that this doesn’t end absent widespread, abundant testing. I still don’t see how it does. But I think the forces for reopening will overwhelm reason, and we’ll be out infecting each other sometime in June. Then, we’ll continue to see pockets of outbreaks all across the country, until it all comes roaring back with a vengeance in October. Forget concerts and festivals. I’m concerned with it coming back on a local level. People love music, and they love live music, but are they going to risk their lives for it?
Stef Loy – Current plans are to not work a job where I have a high potential of becoming infected, and then infecting others. Live music, both playing it and seeing it, would be way down the list from there.
Bryan A Harrison – As long as my dancing pants still fit, I’m in.
Mike Dodge – More than me seeing the shows, I’m curious how long the ticket companies will kick the concerts down the road before they would actually refund the money.
Copyright 2020, Spins on Music LLC